One of our less attractive characteristics is our cultural enthusiasm for enacting well-intentioned legislation or regulations and then forgetting about them. We are very good on the theory of lawmaking but far less admirable when it comes to giving that legislation meaning by applying it so whatever behaviour it was designed to stamp out is, well, stamped out.
The latest example of that has been brought to light by the organisation representing migrant fishermen, mostly African or Asian, crewing in the Irish fleet. The International Transport Workers’ Federation reports that, three months after a deal was agreed to protect workers, little or nothing has changed.
The agreement, to which Government was a party, was to confront “severe labour trafficking and human rights abuses caused by the Atypical Work Permit scheme”.
That scheme was to eradicate underpayment, overwork and other forms of exploitation by boat owners. The ITF, however, insists the scheme is misused and facilitated abuse of foreign crew by threatening deportation as boat owners still hold workers’ permits despite a commitment not to do this.
This unacceptable state of affairs puts our guff about Ireland being a force for moral good in context. We may try to wash our hands saying only a minority of employers are involved but we are all involved because we turn a blind eye to this well-flagged and odious behaviour. Imagine the outcry, the sanctimony if Irish were so exploited in a foreign country.